Towards a Standard Canadian Definition of FASD

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At CanFASD, we have been working to create a common definition of FASD for use in a Canadian context.

We believe that if all governments, service agencies, and researchers use a common definition of FASD, it will:

  • Reduce stigma, given that many existing definitions are quite harsh and use incorrect or outdated information
  • Increase understanding of the disability
  • Increase consistency in our messaging
  • Reduce confusion

When talking about FASD, we recommend that individuals avoid:

  • Referring to FASD as something that is “caused by” or is “the result of” a mother consuming alcohol while pregnant, as this can inadvertently place blame
  • Fatalistic terminology and phrasing (e.g., “with no cure”, “devastation”, “preventable”, and “average life expectancy”)
  • Outdated terms, like “mental deficiency” and “mental retardation”
  • In line with our language guide, avoid the terms primary and secondary disabilities

Our draft definition has received feedback from our CanFASD staff, our team of Research Leads, as well as the Canadian Northwest FASD Partnership. However, we would also like to receive feedback from you, our blog followers, about our definition.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol during pregnancy.

FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD may experience challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, emotional regulation, and social skills.

Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.

Please send any feedback to Dr. Kelly Coons-Harding at

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